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. . . Only the foolish build dams

Building-BridgesBarbados TODAY reported last Friday that the issue with the Springer Memorial School student was not yet settled. However, it noted Minister of Education Ronald Jones had hinted
a resolution was near.

I sincerely hope that is really the case. To have a student away from classes for such a long period in a case like this is not something any of us should be proud of.

This issue has been thoroughly ventilated in the media in all its forms. And as Minister Jones rightfully pointed out, “let the issue simmer down. There has been too much Press coverage of the issue”.

The issue of too much Press coverage is also debatable, and will perhaps take the whole matter into another discussion. But the issue is instructional in so many ways! Not being privy to all the facts and information, one can really only speak to the issue from what is reported in the media.

What stands out for me, like with so many other issues affecting our country, is a seeming inability to properly handle conflict. Conflict resolution skills seem to be either lacking or severely restricted in the present societal climate.

The wrapper issue is perhaps the tip of the iceberg in how so many disagreements, conflicts and issues are not effectively resolved. Valuable resources, including time and energy, being utilized to try to bring about a solution has become the norm.

Has our society –– including individuals, families, communities, schools and the Government –– lost the ability to resolved conflict in an amicable and just manner?  Frustration, anger and hardening of positions seem to have become commonplace.

For some individuals, this inability to handle conflict results in anger and sometimes, sadly, violence. The almost daily postings on social media of young schoolchildren involved in fights and abusive behaviour against each other are not a good sign of where our society is heading.

What these little ones learn and experience in their young impressionable years will be carried forward into their character as adults. And we see similar traits in our adults today.

One of the reasons for domestic violence is an inability to handle and resolve conflict among partners. If our young people are not taught and given the effective tools
to handle conflict, then resolution will be time-consuming and painful.

The recently passed laws on domestic violence give law enforcement officers more powers to deal with offenders.
It also focuses the society on the issues surrounding this heinous behaviour.
But much more needs to be done.

We cannot sit back and be happy that legislation is passed. We as a society must work earnestly to eradicate such behaviour from our households. There must be zero tolerance for domestic violence –– as with all other forms of violence.

Working to eradicate violence will involve giving our society the tools to resolve conflicts in a way that anger and fighting are not part of the solution.

At the level of Government, we witness more than ever the need to resolve many festering issues in the Public Service. Ignoring the issues does not make it go away. It seems that trade unions are constantly busy with a myriad of issues.

Threats of strikes and withdrawal of service permeate our environment. Must this really be the case in this 21st century and 50th year of our Independence?

I am fully aware that there are some conflicts that cannot be resolved in a short period.  Some issues take years and even decades to be resolved, while others are left unresolved. But we must try our utmost to talk, to negotiate, to work through the issues.  To leave a conflict festering is like leaving a sore unattended, the infection will spread and consume the whole body.

It is interesting that conflict resolution –– sometimes termed dispute resolution, as well as conflict management –– is taught in many universities. Undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are actually offered in this discipline in many universities across the world.

Teaching such a subject even at the primary school level in a manner young minds can appreciate is critical in our society today. Having the ability to negotiate through life challenges as it relates to conflict is crucial. It cannot be emphasized enough. Regretfully it is lacking at so many levels in our society. Parents are hopeless in some cases of handling conflict; children are not shown the skills of conflict resolution and so rely on not so reliable advice; and some adults don’t feel it is important to know the skill sets required.

Sadly, several politicians who are expected to be leaders in society do not display appropriate mannerisms as it relates to resolving conflicting issues.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has become an acceptable alternative in several jurisdictions. The big sign that one cannot miss in the Wildey, St Michael area proudly proclaims Mediate, Don’t Litigate. That is all part of the process of ADR.

Conflicting parties are advised to try mediation rather that litigation in their attempt to resolve issues. At that level it is a possible, less costly and less hurtful process. Its goal is building bridges and seeking workable solutions to disputes rather than seeking a legal judgment of a court leaving one or the other party bitter in the process.

Many major conflicts in the world have been resolved through the parties involved getting together and talking –– this coming together being facilitated by an honest, fair and unbiased third party whose goal is to bring about a lasting resolution.

At the micro level so many of our conflicts, disputes and disagreements can be resolved through similar means. We must talk to each other rather that at each other, and we must be prepared to have just people intervene to make it happen.

As the African proverb reminds us, “in the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams”.

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association.

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